Hysteria: The Def Leppard Story
Never let it be said that VH1 doesn’t tackle the tough stuff. As soon as you heard that the music channel was doing a TV movie about Def Leppard, what one scene did you figure they’d shy away from depicting? Right: the moment in 1984 when drummer Rick Allen loses his arm in an auto accident. Well, in Hysteria: The Def Leppard Story, director Robert Mandel (who also helmed the 1992 Brendan Fraser ”Animal House” meets anti-Semitism epic ”School Ties”) does not flinch from his duty. We see the actor playing Allen (Tat Whalley) get reckless when another car cuts him off and then smash his auto into the English countryside.
Allen walks away from the wreck with his real left arm barely hidden under his shirt, on top of which the VH1 makeup crew (presumably on leave from gussying up the channel’s premier VJ, Rebecca Rankin) has affixed a bloody stump. Cut to a bystander discreetly disguising his revulsion as the camera pans down to? Allen’s ”arm,” lying on the ground like a spare part from a crash test dummy.
Arriving in the summer of ”Fear Factor” and ”Spy TV,” facing inevitable comparison with its own channel’s eternally compelling, campy signature docu series ”Behind the Music,” ”Hysteria” does what it can to startle. But this being MTV’s kinder, gentler, older demo cousin, the TV movie is, like every edition of ”Behind,” essentially an upbeat, power of positive thinking, inspirational tale, with the benefit of good acting, fleet editing, and what amounts to the best anti-road rage PSA ever.
”Working class heavy metal, that’s what we are,” says one Leppard. What they really are, eventually, is the ultimate pop metal act, courtesy of producer Robert ”Mutt” Lange, portrayed here by Anthony Michael Hall with suitably long, curly, ’80s hair — the only actor in history to go from playing the New York Yankees’ Whitey Ford (in HBO’s ”61*”) to the man who became Shania Twain’s hubby in the space of one TV season.
The TV movie alludes to orgies that were more explicit in Leppard’s ”Behind the Music” docu and hazards some amateur psychoanalysis to account for guitarist Steve Clark’s (Karl Geary) fatal alcoholism (he died in 1991 at age 30): It was all his unlovingly critical, hectoring father’s fault. ”My dad, ‘e’s right ‘ere,” says Geary’s Clark, pointing to ‘is ‘ead, ”and ‘e don’t never shut up.”
Fortunately, ”Hysteria” does shut up regularly, so that we hear some of the catchy hits (c’mon, you sing along when ”Pour Some Sugar on Me” pops up on the radio) and are permitted to be properly moved when Allen makes his first valiant, clumsy efforts to drum with one arm (he eventually used technology to help him keep left hand beats with his left foot).
In the pantheon of TV rock movies, ”Hysteria” is better than, say, 1992’s soggy saga ”The Jacksons: An American Dream” but not nearly as incisively shrewd as the all time great 1978 Jan & Dean biopic ”Dead Man’s Curve.” On the other hand, as part of VH1’s renewed effort to bolster its lineup with programming beyond videos, it puts a positive spin on the phrase ”Rock & Roll Jeopardy!”
Hysteria: The Def Leppard Story